Indian Summer at Breakfast Club

The large chrome electric fan in my bedroom was fast becoming redundant and balmy heat was giving way to a chill in the air. The last vestiges of summer were clinging on but would soon lose their grip to the melancholy of autumn facilitating the onset of winter.

The only positive I could find was that it was Thursday and that meant Breakfast Club. I pulled the duvet up to cover my cold shoulders and wondered whether Armando had re-organised the café to accommodate a larger table to facilitate Lil’s growing popularity. Attendance was becoming a lottery and I didn’t know who would have a lucky number today. Were Gisela and Cyril regulars or passers-by? Was Mavis going to make another battle appearance? Had anyone heard from Bill? The only one I willed not to see was Marty, and I hoped he was already on his way out.

As I knotted my delicate neckerchief I deliberated as to how the promise of a spring scarf had given way to the cold of its autumn counterpart. Depression was setting in. I could feel its dark veil snuffing out my light.

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Our table, which had not altered in size or capacity, was empty. Armando was behind the counter and I nodded and half-smiled in his direction. He reciprocated.

There were three solo customers, each at their own table, clutching their cups and mugs as if searching for the feeling of warmth. No one looked happy.

A gust of pensioner entered the café as Gisela, who was closely followed by Lil, arrived. They both looked flustered.

‘Morning ladies,’ I said with as much positivity as I could muster and rose to kiss them.

‘Morgan Wayne, sorry we are late,’ said Gisela who led the charge.

‘We’re not late, and morning Wayne and to you too Armando,’ said Lil with irritation in her voice.

I glanced at my phone to validate the time as 9.57. No one was late. I decided not to share my findings.

‘We have cut too fine,’ said Gisela and added, ‘I prefer to allow extra time to ensure promptness and we agreed you would arrive at the corner for 9.45 precisely.’

‘I told you I had a last minute adjustment to make and we don’t need fifteen minutes for a four minute walk. Goodness Gisela, you do get dramatic at times,’ said Lil.

‘I’ll order tea,’ I said trying to divert attention. I did understand them both. I would rather be early than late. However, they were neither – they were perfectly on time.

Armando joined us, ‘tea is on its way and café is empty.’

Oh dear the change in season was affecting everyone’s mood.

Judith appeared with a large grey pot which she settled in the centre of the table, and stood, notepad poised to take our order.

‘Full English please,’ said Lil.

‘Me too,’ said Gisela. Lil raised her eyebrows. I surmised that Gisela was attempting a white flag through food.

‘Vegetarian with a sausage please,’ I said.

‘Ha,’ said Lil and cackled, ‘that never gets old Boulevardier.’ Gisela laughed too. It was in fact a small cackle that I hadn’t heard from her Germanic timbre before. Lil was catching and I hoped Gisela was infected by Lil rather than becoming her Single White Female.

‘Blueberry muffin for me please,’ said Armando.

‘No Marty today?’ I asked Lil.

‘No, he’s off to the races. He asked me to go with him but I told him I wouldn’t miss a Breakfast Club,’ answered Lil. She looked upwards and into the distance.

Gisela tutted. She was indeed becoming Lil’s mini-me.

‘How’s the love life Armando?’ I asked.

‘Yes good. He is a nice man. The only problem is his English. He doesn’t really speak any. We have to use a translator application on his phone. It makes for slow conversation.’

‘Time to talk, have you?’ cackled Lil.

Armando tutted.

Lil removed the cream silk scarf which had been covering her head and patted her very set curls. I took my cue.

‘Fancy-pants hair Lil.’

‘Yes, thank you. I splashed out and went to the hairdressers yesterday. Sometimes I need more than just a rinse at home.’

‘I must pay a visit myself,’ said Gisela as she tried to pouf her own deflated locks, ‘looks wunderbar.’

Lil gave her side swirls another pat.

‘I do love an appointment at the hairdressers; someone gently washing your hair and massaging your head. And then a good session under the dryer with a pile of mags at your side. Ooooo I could go every day if I could afford it,’ said Lil.

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‘Why is it at the hairdressers that we don’t get to read anything serious? Does the dye, shampoo and hair-cutting shrivel our brains?’ I asked.

Gisela looked puzzled. ‘I always take my crochet.’

‘Silly sod,’ said Lil, ‘as if you’d read anything deep,’ she added as she pointed at me. She was now fully animated and continued, ‘Look at all that shit you watch? Keeping Up with the Real Housewives of bloody America.’ The magnitude of the squawk filled the café with sunshine.

‘I guess you just want to read something light between the gossip eh?’ I bantered back.

‘Too right sunshine,’ said Lil. She was indeed bringing some sunshine into this grey day.

Our plates arrived leaving a trail of fragrant smoke behind them. I tucked straight in and carelessly pulled my egg apart and watched the yolk blend with the mushrooms and halloumi.

‘Heard anything from Bill?’ asked Armando.

‘Yes, I had a call from him in the week. It was great to hear his voice and he sounded well. His daughter is apparently a bit controlling and has restricted his food intake, but let’s face it, losing a few pounds wouldn’t go amiss,’ said Lil as she frantically added salt to her bacon.

‘You think he’ll come back?’ asked Armando.

The atmosphere started to dip. Lil looked pensive as she chewed on a combination of egg white and tomato. ‘I’m not sure. I’ve not thought anything of it.’

‘He must miss his home. I do, and it’s been a long time since I were in Bonn,’ said Gisela.

Our momentary joy was waning.

‘Autumn always makes me miss my aunt,’ said Lil and dabbed her eye with her pink paper napkin.

I reached over to put my hand on hers, but she moved it too quickly to pick up her cutlery again.

‘But autumn also reminds me of betrayal and that awful Bellamy woman, which makes me very cross,’ said Lil as she tore into an uncompromising rasher of bacon which was proving difficult to slice demurely.

‘I don’t know the history, but she is certainly a multiple faced woman,’ said Gisela as she firmly placed her own cutlery on her plate. She hadn’t managed to finish her voluminous platter but looked sated at her efforts.

Lil was alluding to more than the latest spat with Mavis, but I wasn’t sure now was the best time to pursue her on the subject. The gloom of faded summer had us all in its icy grasp.

‘Yes, well I’m not going to dwell on her and her duplicity, especially as poor Betty isn’t even in the ground yet,’ said Lil.

‘Oh so sorry,’ said Armando and mouthed, ‘who’s Betty?’ to me. Lil saw.

‘Don’t worry boys. Betty came to our Age Club for a while before she got put in care in Highgate. I didn’t know her that well, but the poor sod had no life at the end, according to Mavis. It’s her funeral next Wednesday.’

‘Are you going Lil? Gisela?’

‘Yes, although I didn’t know her. Lil has said it’s OK and that we all go to all the funerals,’ said Gisela.

‘Well they’re the main get-togethers at our age, and I never say no to a free vol au vent,’ said Lil.

There was an air of imminent darkness as seasons were changing but at least we’d shared a few laughs among the tea and sausages at our warming Breakfast Club.

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Rules of a displaced Boulevardier

To celebrate over six months of weekly blogging I thought it was time to share with you the very essence of a displaced Boulevardier.

The trusty World Wide Web tells us that a Boulevardier is a man who promenades the fashionable streets of Paris. In other words an urbane, fashionable city dweller, who is usually of higher class and has knowledge of the city, and in particular how to find the best advanced cultural entertainment.

I do think that Crouch End is a suitable replacement for Paris. I also just about manage to replicate the criteria albeit in a displaced fashion.

I will now enlighten (and hopefully entertain) you by providing the seven areas of consideration in my self help guide.   

Hair

A Boulevardier, however displaced, should have a good head of hair. This should be coiffured into a chic style. The quiff is a good example of en vogue tresses, which equally retains a classic and classy element.

Regular visits to the salon are also required. Barbers do serve a purpose, but seem to deal more in volume sheerings than dazzling creations.

The most important part of the appointment is the initial consultation. It is not enough to provide the instruction

‘Just a trim please.’

The Tonsorial Artist will perform much better with a detailed description of each area of the how the cutting should take place for each area of the head.

For example ‘Please don’t cut any length from the front and top. The sides and back should be much shorter, and as short as possible without showing the scalp, and disconnected from the top rather than graduated.’

Healthy (some might say excessive) attention to clothing

Fashion is constantly changing and evolving, and while it would be fantastic to keep right up to the minute with every microscopic change it’s simply not practical. It is important to ensure sartorial sophistication exudes from your wardrobes and this can be achieved by developing your own essence of cool. Of course this will be wrapped around various genres, from hippie to punk, but it will be your own.

A cautionary note should be added. Please check with your friends and family first to validate your ability for natural panache, as without this creating your own style could lead to disaster.

Adding the right and the right number of accessories is vital. Think jewellery, manbag (to manbag or to not?), and shades. Shades are mandatory and the choice should be around which pair to wear.

And contrary to popular belief a man can never have enough shoes.

Social Media Presence            

Updating social media is an art. Each tweet, status update or photo should be interesting and make the reader or viewer wish they were in your world.

For instance if you wake feeling too tired to get up, then you post should read something like the following

‘Decadently lounging in bed savouring endless cups of tea.’

Timing your updates is also key and ensuring you still pay sufficient attention to any company you are keeping. It’s not wise to constantly update when you are in a social situation but sometimes needs must. Much will depend on the duration of your social intercourse. If you are meeting for a short lunch then it’s probably not prudent to be constantly tapping your phone or tablet, but if it’s a longer affair then it’s only reasonable to keep in touch with your wider circle.

Theatre, concerts and the arts

Regular visits to all manner of cultural events are required and enjoyed. Crouch End is vibrant with its own annual arts festival, and with so many nearby local theatres there is always something to watch and enjoy.

From the revue showings of new plays in bars to the acoustic music sessions in the cafes there is always something on.

These experiences should enrich your cultural conversational referencing.

We even had crocheted squares and woven pompoms decorating the trees and railings near the Clock Tower this summer.

Immergence and appreciation of all artistic expression is required.

Elegant Hosting

This is the area of Boulevarding (I think I just invented a new verb!) I struggle with most. The kitchen is not my natural sanctuary. If you think Carrie from Sex and the City, and her redundant kitchen you won’t be too far from the truth. However, I would like to protest that it is almost sacrilegious to stay in when there are global gastronomical opportunities minutes from my residence. Crouch End is bountiful with eateries. Everything from Caribbean fusion to Pan Asian via Spain, Italy, Turkey and Japan to name just a few.

The hosting at my home is finer tuned to thirst quenching and entertainment. My piano forte is often in use.

Drink Sherry and Tanqueray

A preferred tipple which coincidently sets you aside from the pack is also a bonus.

Sherry has certainly made a comeback in recent years, and our palates have been warmed to an excellent Fino or a darker Amontillado. Sherry is an elegant drink to enjoy and certainly raises the eyebrows of most bar staff when requested.

However, while it has been revived Sherry is not freely available. It is therefore important to have an alternate in mind. I oft for Tanqueray a lesser known London gin. My spirit of choice has long been gin, and I really don’t like the taste of the default Gordons. Amy Winehouse introduced me to the joys of Tanqueray when she sang of it in her track You Know I’m No Good.

If in doubt ask ‘What would Amy do?’

Replace ‘Amy’ with your own hero but it has to be someone qualified in style, cool and presence.

I hope my short and perhaps self-indulgent guide spurs some of you into the joys of Boulevardier hood.

TNW

Celebrity Hair

Strange number displayed on my phone a few weeks ago led to the news that I had won a session at a celebrity hairdressers in Chelsea!

The lady on the other end of the phone congratulated me, and then checked the date. It was unfortunately the following week and I already had meetings booked in. The call ended.

She rang back two days later to offer another date. Are they desperate for winners or really want me? I later found out I was one of 10.5K applicants so lucky to be chosen!

I couldn’t remember all the details. It was a competition in the Waitrose magazine, and involved some new hair products they are promoting. The products emanated from a famous hairdresser in Chelsea. His name rang a bell but I couldn’t remember why.

The new date was a few weeks ahead and I could book in! I would need to be at the salon for 9am where I would get coffee and pastries. The session would start with a talk on blow drying and then an actual professional blow dry! Wow this could be good!

She said the details would be emailed to me. I thanked him, clicked the phone, and got on with my day.

The promised email arrived promptly and I set about investigating the notoriety of Richard Ward. The list of clients is vast and contains everyone from Pippa Middleton via Jonathan Rhys-Myers to Rowan Atkinson!

My expectation and excitement grew!

So after a weekend in the Cotswolds, and a fantastic pop up literary salon, Monday morning I needed to head to Chelsea. Due to needing to be there for 9am, foresight dictated that outfit would need choosing in advance. Leatherette, denim jeans, Bowie T, and polka dot creepers were selected.

Should I style my quiff or not? I decided to style it, so they could see how I usually styled my hair and make any recommendations!

It wasn’t sunny but I felt that sunglasses were required and donned appropriately. This decision was also advantageous from a practical point of view, as I was tired, and the neon lights of the tube were bright.

I was met by the friendly reception staff and escorted upstairs to meet with the other lucky competition winners (we were 3 in total) and our Waitrose host Julie. As a civilised affair, tea and pastries were provided, and then we headed for a quick tour of the salon and spa, which was breathtaking! 80 plus people are employed, and it was so much more than a salon. It was a brand, but interestingly enough it was clear that it also retained the charm and intimacy of regular sized salons.

We were ushered into one of the salon sections and met Richard Ward and one of the senior members of his team, Matt Hawes. Within minutes it was obvious how the intimacy and friendliness is retained. Richard and Matt were charming, engaging and real. Do not let the client lists fool you into thinking they were all show, as their passion for hair glistened through, and would be shared irrespective of your status.  And they were really enthusiastic that a male had accepted and come as part of the joint experience with Waitrose.

Richard asked me how I styled my hair and after explaining he commended my efforts and said he didn’t know how they would improve upon it! What a great compliment! I have pretty much taken care of my hair since a teenager, and had a multitude of styles, and so would hopefully have some ability, but to get an affirmation of this magnitude was fantastic. Mondays need not always be bad!

Richard and Matt demonstrated on a willing assistant (one of the staff ) how to create the perfect Chelsea Blow Dry. The young lady with long flowing locks looked magnificent and ready for a night at the opera rather than a day in the salon.

Now it was our turn, and our hair was washed, and then blow dried! Matt undertook the task of re-quiffing me, and gave great advice on how to maintain the volume across the entire do and not just at the front! I will be entering the world of spritzing!

A great morning followed by a lovely lunch with one of my fellow competition winners, and now, a new friend!

With promises of free products in the post we left sated. (Only half the products arrived, and despite asking am still waiting for feedback, and to see whether I get the full quote of promised gear).

However, despite that, I was one of 20 chosen (and only man) from applications in excess of 10,000! And you know if the salon was a little nearer to home, I would definitely head there to have Matt cut and style my hair even with the £72 price tag!

TNW

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Hair Raising!

Regular readers will be aware that hair is of the utmost importance to me, and my Boulevardier persona. So it goes without saying that getting it cut and styled requires military precision, and intensive care.

Crouch End has an abundance of establishments to select from, but does that mean all of them are good. These luscious locks are not for the butchering tendencies of certain scissors, even if the salon they are contained within resembles an 18th century Parisian brothel!

What makes a good hairdressers? Can you tell from the appearance?

There are three traditional barber type affairs, only one of which has received my patronage, but more of that later.

Then there are lots of samey establishments (upwards of 10) offering slightly different deals to entice new and existing customers back. They all appear akin and have the funky dressed receptionists with multi coloured spiky hair, which presumably advertises the wonders to be created within the salon!

Then there are a couple which break the mould. One I have not been to called Pulp on Crouch End Hill. The interior is adorned with bold colour blocks, mixed with golden coloured ornate chandeliers and spread with velvet (not sure if there is any actual velvet, but it gives that impression, and if there isn’t, then there should be!) I would conclude and describe it as decadent goth!

Finally, and my mane tamer of choice is The Engine Room. A cool industrial styled relaxed salon pumping out the latest trip hop on Middle Lane. Additional attraction is that it’s only a skip from home.

Before moving to Crouch End in 2004 I scanned coiffeurs for suitability, sustainability and perfect match for a Boulevardier. For some odd and unremembered reason I went to Middle Lane Barbers. It must have been proximity rule, as closest to my new home to be. I remember asking for a trim as I was growing my hair longer at the time. They seemed only capable of one styling which was tantamount to shearing! I came out with MUCH shorter hair. Suffice to say I was so upset! These people wield too much power and can mess significantly with your emotion. I didn’t say anything at the time but have never spoken to them since. I walk passed almost every day, and on at least 50% of occasions they are hanging around outside and I look the other way! It’s rather difficult when they are talking to the tattooist next door as I often greet him. I have to be adept to greet him whilst ignoring the butchers. They are rather fortunate in my opinion to not be behind bars! Giving bad hair should be receive capital punishment sentencing!

Trust in Crouch End coiffurists was low and I nervously booked an appointment at The Engine Room. My first cut there was a little rocky, perhaps OK but not exactly what I wanted. However, I loved the place. The decor is industrialist 50s, with flashes of neon and colour. It’s overstatedly understated. The team were really friendly and cool, and I was drawn to an assistant called Jodie who exuded warmth and wit. She was clearly the life, soul and unofficial manager of The Engine Room. For this reason I went back in and explained the cut was not to my taste and explained ‘I didn’t want these short bits at the front! They don’t quiff up properly! I don’t know why the stylist cut them like that’. They were very supportive but started to glaze over as I explained how every single hair on my head should be styled! They carried on listening regardless, and I knew this was the place for me.

The next cut was fantastic and by an aging, cool guy called Greg! He had spent years working in all the top West End salons and now in his later years was spreading his cheer to the outer zones. I was sold when he told me that he was responsible for creating Betty Boos bob in the late 80s! Anyone mention a celeb and I am sold!

Greg and I had a beautiful hair relationship for a number of years, and went through stages of quiff, higher punk, and a beautiful mane which extended down the back of my head and was really quite long! I was a fearless lion with fabulous hair! Colours varied from blonde highlights to reddish lowlights, and spectacular white blonde in 2009 with dark brown scattered throughout and for the shorter sides and sides of the back. I knew the platinum blonde was a onetime affair however, as the condition was hideous! There were 3 bleachings to get the shade of white I wanted! I was SO worried it would fall out! It moved as one as soon as it was wet! Conditioner and treatments were needed daily!

Greg left to move further from urban life, and headed to Suffolk. Mark took over, and is still my current stylist. We have maintained a fantastic mane, moved through punk (was this a mid life crisis, i.e. back to punk!), and back to the trusty quiff. I often get shouts of ‘Elvis!’ on random occasion!

I went back to blue black for 3 years, and then decided to temper to dark brown. I am currently going ‘natural’, which is more grey than anything else! Apparently it looks distinguished and softer than the black.

Anyway, enough of my hair, you’ve heard it all before, and back to the Engine Room. The entire team work as a well oiled machine held together by Jodie, who despite departing to have a baby still echoes at the basins. Simon is the official owner and a pretty decent gent. He is less ostentatious than his team but parades an effortless mod chic around the salon. He is a real Crouch Ender and engages with the community.

Jodie and Greg may be gone but the heart of the Engine Room keeps beating and I am grateful to have found a gem amongst the many on offer. A sanctuary where I don’t need a sherry or valium before succumbing to their scissors!

I won a blow dry at a celebrity hairdressers in Chelsea which I will write about once its occurred! I rarely win anything and whilst a slightly odd prize I am grabbing it by both hands, but celebrity or not they are not getting their scissor happy selves near my award winning locks!

TNW